12 Days of Reconnection, Day 6: The Least Expected

Sometimes, plans don’t turn out as expected because something better is supposed to happen.

My friend Doc Ronald told me he’s going to take me by the foot of Mt. Arayat to get a better view of Pampanga River. I got excited, and deeply touched by his immediate response when I first texted him that I want him and Pampanga to be part of this 12 days of reconnection.

That Mt. Arayat trip didn’t happen, no thanks to the rains, but what happened instead brought me to tears.

First, four other friends decided to join us. One of them said she got inspired by this series of road trips so she decided to tag along. The others graciously accepted my invitation despite the short notice. It was a very touching gesture from them, making me reaffirm how blessed I am for having such lasting friendships.

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Some of them got reconnected after not seeing each for about 30 years. Photo by Jim Marpa.
We all converged at 2292 Cafe in Angeles City where My MOM’s Kitchen, owned by one of our gracious hosts and good friend Erli, is a concessionaire. After stuffing ourselves with good home-cooked breakfast with take-home of muffins each from The Pan Bake Shoppe, we headed off to Neneng’s Kamayan in Guagua for lunch (because when in Pampanga, it has to be a food trip!).

 

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We ordered  the appropriately named “BFF3” boodle fight platter, which included sinigang sa misu (ulo ng salmon), mixed veggies (steamed sitaw, talong, okra, ampalaya) with buro, grilled pusit, nilasing na hipon, crispy pata, chicken barbecue, and steamed rice.

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My first taste of Pindang Damulag, otherwise called tinocinong kalabaw — a perky combination of sweetness and sourness that will surprise you.

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Fried (adobong) pugo. Again, a first for me. 

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Fried stuffed betute (frog). This was different from the first plain fried betute that I tried years ago, and better!

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I’m not really a fan of kinilaw (fermented) dishes, but this one of shrimp is really good!
We next went to Sta. Rita to buy the mandatory pasalubong. Ocampo Lansang Delicacies has been making goodies since the 1920s, thanks to the mentorship of a Dominican nun who taught the first generation of Castro sisters, Lansang, Aguilar and Miranda how to make turrones de casoy and sans rival. Aside from turrones and sans rival, the store remains popular today aming visitors for its mamon tostado and yema.

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The store along Maglalang street looks like your ordinary neighborhood sari-sari store.
We thought of stuffing our officemates back in Manila with fat (we love you guys!), so we went to a hidden place where crispy chicharon is packed fresh daily. A cheaper yet equally “sinful” vatirty of the popular Galan’s store, this one can be better spotted with a local Kapampangan. My friend accidentally discovered this place himself.

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This is daily life for the women who make and pack the crunchy chicharon of Guagua.

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Just before entering the hidden chicharon place, my heart skipped a beat upon seeing this marker of the death march. It reminded me that I am walking the streets of a place not only rich in heritage, but also of painful history.
Our next stop was to get a glimpse of an old house (since 1932!) that was used in the film Tanging Yaman starring Gloria Romero, Johnny Delgado, Edu Manzano, Dina Bonnevie, Cherry Pie Picache, and a host of young talented Filipino actors. The house looked abandoned when we got there, but it is believed to be still inhabited to this day.

 

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Ang Villa Epifania: isa sa mga tanging yaman ng Pampanga.
Next, we headed off to Bacolor where the half-buried San Guillermo Parish Church lies. Telenovela fans will recognize this as the church from ABS-CBN’s top-rated TV drama May Bukas Pa that popularized the character of Santino and the reference to Jesus as “Bro”. This Bacolor church was buried in lahar during the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo, but the parish would not let nature’s wrath stop them from giving worship to God.

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The church is buried halfway to the ground, but its sanctity remains intact.

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photo by Jim Marpa

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Visitors and church goers will pass by the museum and archives of the parish.

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The doorway leading to the adoration chapel.

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This is where masses are held, with the recovered stolen Blessed Sacrament.
By this time, we thought we have reached our final destination for this road trip of Pampanga. But Erli had us all surprised when she took us to Bale Balayan — a museum and haven for the poor youth of Sta. Teresita, Angeles City. Here, I was reconnected to  my inner child.

I was moved to tears by this video because of the message it sends. I have a soft spot for children, and I get my energy from their innocence. Those who were there when we visited performed before us, proud and happy to have an audience who are not from their neighborhood. They danced, sang, played instruments, and reenacted traditions from our diverse culture. You cannot trace any signs of poverty from their vibrant faces. This is how they should remain — nurtured and sheltered from all the evils of jaded society.

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The painting that greets visitors depicts their vision: to create a world where children are the instruments, and Jesus is their musician.

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They let us try some of the instruments that they play.

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Playing the various instruments of Mindanao

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This group hug extends to all the children of the world. God bless each one of them!
I’m still trying to recover from the overwhelming experience that I just had in Pampanga with some of my closest college friends. Just when I thought I would be going there for the usual food trip, I went home nourished with the thought that I am surrounded not only by the most intelligent people I know, but also by the most caring and loving friends one can ever have.

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